Brussels (Brussels Morning) France’s President Emmanuel Macron is facing a political backlash from political rivals after his declaration that he wants to “piss off” the unvaccinated by depriving them of access to restaurants, social and cultural activities, as part of his attempts to pressure them to get the COVID-19 jab.
Restrictions to social life
Macron’s comments were criticised by his opponents in the upcoming presidential elections as well as by opposition parliamentarians, who were debating the government’s vaccination draft law. At stake is the requirement of proof of vaccination to access public places including restaurants, cafés and theatres. A negative COVID-19 test will no longer be enough.
“The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so, we’re going to continue doing so, until the end. That’s the strategy”, Macron told the newspaper Le Parisien in an interview that was published late on 4 January amidst the de bate on the vaccine pass.
Seizing on the social fracture created by Macron, the far-right contender, Marine Le Pen, accused the sitting President of dividing the French people rather than uniting them.
“It shows the President wants to declare war against a part of the French public, who I remind you, even if we do not share their choices, have broken no laws”, Le Pen told France’s National Assembly.
Meantime, the Republican candidate, Valérie Pécresse, expressed “outrage” at the President’s contention that non-vaccinated citizens are irresponsible and therefore should be denied access to social and cultural venues. “I want to value the efforts made by the French, not to humiliate those who are not vaccinated from the Elysée”, she pronounced.
The draft vaccine pass as it now stands establishes a form of “nationality disqualification”, Mathilde Panot, leader of the left-wing La France Insoumise party, observed.
Nearly 80% vaccinated
According to Santé publique France, currently, some 79% of the French population has been vaccinated with two doses, with 34% having received a booster. The proportion of booster recipients is much higher for older people, leaving about 5 million eligible people who have not been vaccinated.
“All his belligerent rhetoric will achieve is to further alienate the unvaccinated and alarm many of the 90 per cent of the vaccinated who share Le Pen’s sentiment that these are not the comments of a man fit to be their leader“, Gavin Mortimer, a Macron critic, wrote to the Spectator.
France, which currently holds the Presidency of the EU Council, goes to the polls on 10 April faced with an upsurge in COVID-19 infections and persistent civil demonstrations against the restrictive measures to contain the pandemic. Given the different approaches presidential candidates are taking on the public health issue at their political rallies, France now faces the emergence of a two-speed campaign.
“I wonder how they can claim that they will be responsible once in power if they are incapable of being responsible while they are seeking power”, the French Health Minister, Olivier Véran, commented.
Macron leads the opinion polls, with about 24% of voters saying they plan to choose him in the first round of the two-round presidential election, according to the latest Harris Interactive. Currently, Pécresse is polling at around 17%, followed by Le Pen with 16% and Zemmour with 15%.